Thailand Time Zone UTC+07:00

 Capital City Bangkok

 Currency Thai baht

National Day  5 December

His Excellency Mr Thani Thongphakdi
Royal Thai Embassy
29-30 Queen’s Gate
London SW7 5JB
T: 020 7225 5500/ 020 789 2944

Ambassador Thongphakdi and his wife Noppanuch arrived in London at the end of last year in time to see his son graduating from LSE. “He’s now returned to Thailand, and my younger daughter remains studying Psychology in Canada.”  From a truly international family, he recalls public service running strong throughout his upbringing. His mother was a doctor with the Ministry of Public Health, and father a diplomat in the foreign service. Living in different countries “gave me a unique experience and a wider perspective on events. Throughout my life, I have enjoyed travelling, meeting people and doing what we can to raise Thailand’s profile. Representing your country is a proud moment.”

His audience with King Charles III to present his credentials so early in His Majesty’s reign has been a highlight. “To have that once in the lifetime experience and riding in the carriage, was certainly very memorable and a moment I will always treasure! In the past,” he continues, “I have tended to think about the UK as a place steeped in tradition, with a long history going back thousands of years.” But since his arrival, he has been interested to observe that “while the UK has maintained these traditions, it is also a modern society, at the forefront of innovation. Institutions of learning like Oxford and Cambridge universities are hundreds of years old, but at the same time are also centres of excellence for new technologies. And AstraZeneca has been a lifesaver for many countries around the world, including Thailand.”

Having joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1987, Ambassador Thongphakdi is a career foreign service officer, who has previously served as Director-General of the Department of Information and Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Deputy Director-General and Deputy Spokesman before that. He has also served as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Director for North America, Head of the Policy and Planning Division’s Policy Section and Liaison Officer and Assistant Permanent Representative of Thailand to UNESCAP in Bangkok, among many roles.

Ambassador Thongphkdi’s first role as Head of Mission came in 2012, when he became Thailand’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva. During that time, he was “fortunate to co-chair the Open-ended Intergovernmental Preparatory Committee for the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, responsible for drafting the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. This became a handbook to manage risk and increase a country’s resilience in the face of disaster, including health issues like Ebola etc. It was a tremendous challenge to try and reach consensus between both developed and developing countries to create this document.”

Another “more controversial issue” he notes, was chairing the Open-ended Working Group on Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations in 2016, which paved the way for the drafting of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. “Nuclear weapons is still an important part of the deterrent policy of various countries, including the UK.”

A stint as Thailand’s Ambassador in the US (2019-20) covered the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our priorities immediately shifted to assist the 300,000 Thai people living in the US,” he recalls. “When international travel came to a standstill, there were also thousands of Thais stranded in the US, so the Embassy essentially had to become a travel agent. Many of them were young students, and we organised special charter flights to get them back home.”

A role as Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs (2020-22) continued into the height of the pandemic. “The challenge was how to reopen the country safely at the same time as relaxing regulations to ensure that travel restrictions didn’t impede the return of tourism and business travel. Crucially, last year Thailand hosted the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and one of the big priorities of the meeting was how to endure the resumption of safe travel. We were fortunate that vaccines becoming more readily available helped enormously.” Ambassador Thongphakdi explains that the role “provided me with a wide perspective on Thailand’s broader priorities, not only in terms of the foreign ministry, but also other government agencies, the private sector and civil society.”

Now in London, Ambassador Thongphakdi clarifies, “Thailand has very close relations with the UK, and we must continue to deepen and broaden our relationship, just as previous Heads of Mission have.” He believes that Thai tourism, culture and people-to-people relations are already well established and well-known in Britain. The Embassy is working on a Thailand showcase, a festival in Granary Square, Kings Cross. “Of course, we will have Thai food and cultural performances, but we also want to showcase Thailand today, with its relatively advanced economy, a growing IT industry and various Thailand 4.0 industries. We want to showcase our businesses to demonstrate how Thailand has developed over the years. We want the British to see these vast advancements on the economic front so Thailand will become a partner of choice. Our priority is to promote closer economic relations, trade and investment. Last year, the joint economic and trade committee (JETCO) met for the first time, so we want to proceed with that, and use it to put substance on the enhanced trade partnership with the UK. There remain many untapped opportunities for business, and we hope to work closely with the private sector in Britain and for a greater British presence in Thailand.”

The Ambassador discloses: “We very much welcome the Indo-Pacific tilt that the UK government has adopted, and the increased focus the UK has given to Thailand and our friends in the region. At the same time, we want this tilt to focus on what we can do together and see the value of working with countries in the region on their own merit beyond geopolitical circumstances. The UK recently became an ASEAN dialogue partner and we are looking at ways to further promote our relations and the UK’s relations with South East Asia.” Furthermore, he reminds us that “2025 will commemorate 170 years of the Bowring Treaty, which opened trade between our two countries. We certainly want to see what more we can do by then, and if possible, launch FTA discussions on this important anniversary.”

Climate issues are also high on the agenda for Thailand. “Our Prime Minister came to COP26 in Glasgow, and he announced our goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 and reaching Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2065. For a developing country like Thailand, transitioning to a low carbon economy is going to be a challenge, and will require a lot of new investment and access to new technologies. This will also offer an opportunity to work with British companies with expertise in these areas.”

Despite so many positive things to focus on during his role in the UK, Ambassador Thongphakdi concedes the region has various challenges in 2023. “East Asia is in a period of tectonic shift with great geopolitical changes taking place. The challenge for Thailand and other countries in the region is to ensure that these shifts result in a new, peaceful equilibrium, with prosperity in the whole region. That is the great challenge of our time.”


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